Arnold Kling  

Interesting Experiment in Education

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Po Bronson reports,


Blackwell split her kids into two groups for an eight-session workshop. The control group was taught study skills, and the others got study skills and a special module on how intelligence is not innate. These students took turns reading aloud an essay on how the brain grows new neurons when challenged...

The teachers--who hadn't known which students had been assigned to which workshop--could pick out the students who had been taught that intelligence can be developed. They improved their study habits and grades. In a single semester, Blackwell reversed the students' longtime trend of decreasing math grades.

The only difference between the control group and the test group were two lessons, a total of 50 minutes spent teaching not math but a single idea: that the brain is a muscle. Giving it a harder workout makes you smarter. That alone improved their math scores.


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The author at amcgltd in a related article titled ~ I Got to Praise You Like I Should ~ writes:
    Don't praise your kids for being smart, praise them for working hard. It apparently works amazingly well. A very interesting article to me, because this: ... For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all... [Tracked on February 14, 2007 12:05 PM]
The author at Economic Investigations in a related article titled News of the World #24 writes:
    Economics: the surrealism of accountants. Economics and anthropology | Patient capital | Economist.com. No mention of trade-offs in sight. More patience, the better? Infinitely patient, infinitely better? Cafe Hayek: The Economist’s Friend, Russe... [Tracked on February 15, 2007 3:57 PM]
COMMENTS (9 to date)
Timothy writes:

I've long thought that people's failure at math is to a large extent a self-fulfilling prophesy. There's this idea that math is somehow harder than other areas, that you need to be a special kind of smart to learn it...I really don't think that's true. Sure, you have to be pretty damn bright to be a real superstar, or even to become a math researcher, but the same can be said of any number of fields: History, economics, chemistry, political science, law, art, and on and on. But people convince themselves that math is difficult, so it is.

Therefore, it's no wonder that kids who think they can learn will.

Jason writes:

I don't remember the author, but there was one study that really caught my attention. There is some professor who conducts research on when students "bloom," or mature in their learning abilities. He had teachers throughout Iowa administer a test to determine when students bloom, and then had them forward the results back to him. Using a method he devised, he sent back a list of students who he predicted would bloom that year. But he gave the teachers a warning not to treat them any different. When the students sat down to take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the students on the list had a significant increase in their scores.

The teachers immediately began praising the amazing success he had a predicting when students bloom. But then he disclosed this little fact: his "method" was to randomly select students from each class.

I think Charles Murray brings an interesting dimension to the debate over education. But I also think he discounts how much the process affects our success, and why creating tiered education might not be as successful has he predicts.

dearieme writes:

The problem with educational experiments is that they tend to work - because they are pursued by enthusiasts, who enthuse those around them, including the pupils. But you need to know whether they will work for the average teacher.

Fritz writes:

Yes we have praised our children into failure. Competence is the best source of praise. Self-esteem was the left's way to promote socialism, to attempt to take away capitalism's greatest source of innovation, individualism.

Mensarefugee writes:

Im wary of any claims of improving outcomes... too many times in the past, they have been biased or outright hoaxes.

Andrew M writes:

"The only difference between the control group and the test group were two lessons, a total of 50 minutes spent teaching not math but a single idea: that the brain is a muscle."

What if this single idea is in fact false? Should we teach our children a falsehood because it improves their performance? Perhaps, but the answer isn't obvious.

eric writes:

better still were all those points about excessive praise, patronizing praise, and praise that teaches the wrong lesson (you either get it or you don't, effort doesn't matter). Fascinating

Brad Hutchings writes:

Amazing article. Thanks for the link!

dobeln writes:

Teaching persistance and the importance of effort seems reasonable enough.

The article is perilously short on the actual educational effect sizes (except for the simple test used in one experiment) of this particular method though. Statements about "stopping a slide in grades" and "improving performance", etc. are a tad too imprecise for my tastes. I'd like to see those before passing judgement on this approach.

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